The Myth of the Kirin

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Americans love beer, and imported beers are sometimes the first experience Americans have of other cultures.  When it comes to Japan, there are two brands that one can find all over the US - Sapporo and Kirin.  Many Americans enjoy the “imported” taste of these “Japanese” beers.


Why the quotation marks? It turns out that if you bought Kirin beer here in the U.S. in the last few years, you were actually buying beer made by Anheuser-Busch in Williamsburg, Virginia, or in Los Angeles, California, and not Japan at all.  In a recent settlement in Miami, Anheuser-Busch agreed that consumers who bought Kirin will be entitled to a refund, up to $50 per household, consisting of 50 cents per six pack of 12-ounce bottles, $1 per 12 pack of 12-ounce bottles, or 10 cents per individual bottle or can, with proof of purchase.  They also agreed to stop using the word “Imported” on their bottles of Kirin and instead include a clear statement on their beers that the beer is brewed in the US.  


Kirin Beer sold in the U.S. hasn’t actually been brewed in Japan since 1996, when Anheuser-Busch took over brewing and distribution. In 2006, it also took over marketing the brand.  Anheuser-Busch claims that Kirin is still made under Kirin supervision and therefore is still authentic, although of course the ingredients are from a different source and certainly not from Japan. Like the Qilin, the mythical hooved Chinese chimerical creatures that “Kirin” is named for, Kirin’s image is as much built on a mixture of mythology and reality.  


Kirin itself did not begin in Japan either.  The Japan Brewery Company, Limited, the forerunner of Kirin Brewery, was established in 1885, taking over the assets of the Spring Valley Brewery, first founded in Yokohama in 1869 by Norwegian-American brewer.  The Japan Brewery was incorporated in Hong Kong and first began marketing Kirin Beer in 1888. The Kirin Brewery Company was established as a separate legal entity in February 1907, purchasing the assets of the assets of the Japan Brewery and expanding the business in an era of growing consumer demand. Kirin Brewery built on the traditions of the Japan Brewery retaining the use of malted grains and hops imported from Germany and employing German brewers to oversee production. 


Think you may be entitled to a refund?  You can check this website: